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The Westerner (1940)

Updated on December 31, 2011


Samuel Goldwyn's “The Westerner” is a good western about that old familiar topic in westerns, the cattlemen versus the homesteaders. This film focuses on the relationship between Judge Roy Bean and a stranger who rides into his town against the backdrop of conflict between homesteaders and cattle men.

Gary Cooper - The Westerner
Gary Cooper - The Westerner

The Court of Judge Roy Bean

In the court of Judge Roy Bean the charge of stealing a horse merits a certain conviction and the penalty of hanging. So when Cole Harden, a wandering cowhand, is brought before Judge Roy Bean on this charge he gets the expected sentence. But the clever Cole talks himself out of the sentence by pretending to know Bean's life idol, the British actress Lily Langtry, aka "the Jersey Lily."

This earns Cole a reversal of his death sentence, and the cowboy sets out for California. Along the way, he meets homesteader Caliphet Mathews and his daughter Jane-Ellen. Cole then falls for Jane Ellen (Doris Davenport) and stays in the area advocating for the rights of homesteaders. This puts him up against Judge Roy Bean, who runs the town as a despot, making his own laws, convicting everyone in his way, and hanging them without a second thought. The farmers were seen as an impediment to the expanding ideas of the ranchers, which required more and more land and water.

Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan
Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan

Battle of Ideologies

Cooper is drawn into the battle of ideologies, and attempted to become the ambassador aiming for peace, not war. He gets the judge to agree to remove the cattle from the homesteaders' land in return for a lock of Lily's hair and it seemed for a while that all would be well in the valley, until it was made very clear to him that the aggressors had no intention of honoring promises. The judge and his gang vindictively set fire to the fields of the homesteaders and when Mathews attempted to save his house the judge trampled him to death. In anger, Jane vows to remain, and Cole rides to Ft. Davis and swears out a warrant on the judge for murder.

The Showdown

As long as the Judge is in Vinergaroon, he is untouchable. When he learns that Lily Langtry will be performing in nearby Fort Davis, Bean dresses up in his Confederate army uniform and has all the seats bought up for the performance. Even though Judge Beans knows that he is wanted for murderer in Ft. Davis, he cannot resist riding there to see Lily perform. As the lights in the opera house dim, Cole comes for the judge, and the last thing that Bean sees before he dies is his beloved Lily. His job accomplished, Cole returns to Jane and the land.


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